By Rita Mae Moore, illustration by Alicia Krupsky
There is a sharp stab to the underside of your foot as you step away from your bed. The fog of sleep is still heavy, but you wince involuntarily, a sharp hiss through gritted teeth as the pain forces you to stumble to the side. You look down, blinking to clear your tired vision, searching for whatever item attacked you.
It’s a typewriter key.
Strange, you think, bending to pick it up. As you’re turning it over in your hands, you wonder, do I even own a typewriter? The key is smooth from years of use on one side, with some still sharp prongs on the other. Lucky you, it was sharp side up. At least your foot isn’t bleeding.
Letter “i,” you note, and slide the key into your pajama pants pocket, moving gingerly to the kitchen. The curiosity about the key fades as a need for coffee arises. You’re powerless against the siren call.
It’s a warm morning already, promising a steamy early autumn day. Soon, the scent of the roasted beans is curling into your nose as the machine sizzles. You reach for your favorite mug, the image worn down from years of washing it in the dishwasher even though it plainly says not to on the bottom. The handle fits into your hand like an old friend, glaze completely worn off where your thumb rests towards your face, you peer inside.
As you remove it from the shelf, something clinks from inside the mug. Tilting it, you see another typewriter key. Face up, letter “h.”
You’re almost positive you don’t have a typewriter, not even in the boxes in your garage that follow you every time you move and never get unpacked. Do you know anyone with a typewriter? You’re not sure. And it doesn’t matter anyways, because you haven’t had a visitor in weeks.
You dump the key out onto your counter, and drop the key from your pocket alongside it. Giving the mug a quick rinse, you fill it with coffee, craving the clarity it brings now more than ever.
This is strange, right, you think, looking around as though someone might validate the increasing unease you’re feeling. You live alone. No one is there to offer you a reassuring pat on the shoulder, or an explanation, or anything.
Silence is your answer, of course.
You backtrack, coffee in hand, to your bedroom, eyes scanning the floor methodically, searching for any more loose pieces. You find none, and you sit on the bed with a sigh. Of course you’re alone and something strange happened. Wasn’t it just last night that you felt a tear slide down from your eye as you laid in bed, a silent herald of your loneliness? Didn’t you end up sobbing into your palms as you ground them into your eyes, pressing to stanch the flow?
Didn’t you cry out to your empty room, pleading for someone to see you, to care about you, to fill the aching gap inside you?
You shake your head softly as you sit on the end of the bed, something like shame welling in you even though your outburst the previous night had no audience. A shiver traces across the back of your neck, so cold that you tremble involuntarily, despite the gathering humidity in the early autumn breezes outside your window. It raises the hair along your arms and you inhale sharply, heart pounding for reasons you can’t fully describe.
A footstep in the hall. Then two.
A familiar clinking.
You jump up and rush to your bedroom door, coffee sloshing carelessly from your mug as you move, and the hallway is just as abandoned as it should be when you reach it. You skid to a stop, thankfully, before you crush your feet into the items placed on the floor, just outside your bedroom door.
The smooth sides face you, propped up in the carpet just so. The two typewriter keys, side by side, spelling out the word you anticipated somehow - a greeting and acknowledgement that you aren’t alone, even when you are:
Rita Mae Moore is the author of A Voice In-Between. The sequel, A Soul In-Between, is out September 23. Rita also leads haunted history tours for American Ghost Walks in Lake Geneva, WI.
This story originally appeared in QWERTY Quarterly #2. You can get a subscription here: www.etsy.com/shop/qwertyquarterly